Little Bits of History

August 10

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 10, 2017

1966: During construction, the Heron Road Bridge collapses. The bridge was being built in Ottawa, Ontario and connected Baseline Road with Heron Road over the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal. John Diefenbaker, Prime Minister of Canada from 1957 to 1963, pushed for a new bridge to ease east-west traffic. Ottawa mayor, Charlotte Whitton, opposed the idea. In 1961 Diefenbaker threatened to reduce federal grants to Ottawa by the cost of the bridge if the city continued to refuse building it. By 1964, an agreement to build was signed by the municipality, province and nation. Initially, it was planned to have two three lane bridges, one for eastbound and one for westbound. It was about 1,000 feet long and budgeted at $2.5 million.

On this day, there were about 70 workers pouring 2,000 tons of concrete on the east side of the southern span of the bridge. The wooden falsework, the framing used in construction work to hold component pieces in place until the structure can sufficiently support itself for advancement, failed at 3.27 PM. The workers fell off the bridge to the ground below, a distance of 50 to 65 feet. The collapse also caused rebar, cement, wood, concrete, and other building materials to drop on top of them. The force of the collapse triggered Dominion Observatory’s seismometer and they issued a statement. There had been no earthquake, but the shock came from the collapse itself.

Some rushed away from the collapse before also being thrown into the mass of debris and some rushed toward the injured to help with rescue efforts. The current major of Ottawa, Don Reid, arrived with bolt cutters. In all, there had been 183 workers at the bridge with nearly one-third of them injured in the collapse. Most of these were taken to Civic Hospital. Since it was change of shift, there was double staff available to take care of the nearly 60 people pouring into the ER. Many of the workers were recent European immigrants and did speak English fluently. They had no identify papers on them and were covered in concrete.

Civic was the closest hospital and yet, both Ottawa General Hospital and National Defence Medical Centre were staffed to receive patients, each only got two admissions. Rescue efforts continued for twelve hours, but it became too dark to use rescue machinery. Only nine people died including the project’s resident engineer and the site foreman. Investigation into the reasons for the collapse found that the falsework was not properly built and lacked enough diagonal bracing. Green wood had been used and it was weaker than seasoned wood and collapsed under the weight of the poured cement. The bridge was finished a year later and in 2016 the name was changed to the Heron Road Workers Memorial Bridge in order to honor those killed in this accident.

Clearly, then, the city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo. – Desmond Morris

Each material has its specific characteristics which we must understand if we want to use it. This is no less true of steel and concrete. – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

I’ve begun to look at the world through apocalypse eyes. Our society, which seems so sturdily built out of concrete and custom, is just a temporary resting place, a hotel our civilization checked into a couple hundred years ago and must one day check out of. – Neil Strauss

Architecture has its place in the concrete world. This is where it exists. This is where it makes its statement. – Peter Zumthor